The History Leadership Institute, AASLH’s professional development program for mid-career history professionals, introduced its long-running Seminar in a new format in June.
In 1959, the Seminar began as an effort to train newly graduated history students and directors of history museums in the unique skills of managing museums, historic sites, and archives in a six-week program held at Colonial Williamsburg, During the decades that followed, the Seminar has continually changed to meet the needs of the field and explore new and emerging practices.
When your history organization is modeling itself on other museums or historical societies, are you choosing the right ones? Are they doing things that are well within your capacity or are you following an impossible dream? There’s nothing wrong with observing the extraordinary leaders in the field, but if you’re modeling your life on a superhero, you may be destined for an avoidable series of crashes and burns. You would have been much more successful had you devoted your time and energy on more achievable efforts.
For example, Historical Organizations (NTEE Code A80) are “organizations that promote awareness of and appreciation for history and historical artifacts,” which is mostly composed of local historic sites, house museums, and memorials that are not solely history museums or historical societies. A sample of Historical Organizations shows that many focus on local history, support museums, or memorialize people, places, or events (see Table 1). Of the 2,500 Historical Organizations providing IRS Forms 990 in 2017, nearly 40 percent include the words “memorial,” “foundation,” “friends,” or “association” in their names.
Readers of History News will have caught a preview of her new book in a Technical Leaflet that accompanied the Winter 2021 issue. In this Leaflet, Kristin lays out a compelling need to change our approach:
Presenting the history of slavery inclusive and conscientious school programs is difficult and necessitates challenging the prevailing, and incomplete, narrative. It requires diligence and compassion—for the history itself, for those telling the story, and for those hearing the stories. It is a necessary part of the collective narrative about our past, present, and future.
We must talk with young people about slavery and race, as it is not enough to just talk to them or about the subject. By engaging students in dialogue about slavery and race, they bring their prior knowledge, scaffold new knowledge, and create their own relevance—all while adults hear them and show respect for what they have to say. We cannot fail future generations of learners the way many of us were failed by the sites we visited as children.
Her new book will provide more advice, examples, and replicable practices for the comprehensive development and implementation of slavery-related school and family programs at museums and historic sites.
If you haven’t met Kristin, she’s worked in museums for nearly 30 years. She holds a master’s degree in museum education from George Washington University (where I now teach in the museum studies program) and has led the education departments at the Montana Historical Society and the USS Constitution Museum and is currently the project manager for education development at the Tsongas Industrial History Center. She facilitates workshops for museums and historic sites on developing comprehensive and conscientious interpretation of slavery and speaks regularly at public history and museum conferences.
Visitation at history organizations was flat from 2018 to 2019, according to AASLH’s 2020 National Visitation Report. More than 1,100 institutions across the country found almost no change in visitation from 2018 to 2019. But what will be the impact of COVID-19 on visitation in 2020?
According to AAM and Wilkening Consulting, their “National Snapshot of COVID-19 Impact on United States Museums” in October 2020 survey of museums revealed that nearly one-third of executive directors believed there was a “significant risk” (12%) of closing permanently by fall 2021 or they “didn’t know” (17%) if they would survive. Secondly, it showed that “museums are operating at, on average, 35% of their capacity–an attendance reduction that is unsustainable long-term.”
It’s now nearly six months later and time for the field to share our annual metrics to understand what actually happened, not rely on predictions. AASLH is now collecting data for the 2021 National Visitation Survey—it closes on Wednesday, March 31. It takes ten minutes to complete and all survey respondents will receive free, advance access to the results later this year. You will need on-hand your visitation data for 2019 and 2020, and your institution’s budget and staffing for 2020. More details and the survey are available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Visitation2021.
Amidst the tidal wave of museum layoffs and closures, many independent consultants and freelance workers are struggling to stay afloat. As Anne Ackerson writes in The COVID-19 Impact on Museum Consulting, “These are the people who work independently across the field in collections, education, governance, art handling and more. They work from job to job, shouldering the full costs of benefits, building careers while offering services many museums and heritage organizations need, but can’t afford on a full-time basis.” What does the future, both short- and long-term, look like for consultants in the museum field? Join Anne Ackerson, Dina Bailey, and Max van Balgooy to discuss unique challenges facing consultants as they consider envisioning new paths or staying the course. American Association for State and Local History is hosting this conversation on Thursday, April 16 (today!) at 3:00 pm Eastern (sorry, we’re moving rapidly to respond to COVID-19). Registration is $10, $5 for AASLH members; and if you are an organization, consultant, or student that is facing financial strain due to COVID-19, please use promo code FREEWBR20 to waive the registration fee for this conversation. Register here.
I’ll be on the panel to open the discussion with examples from Engaging Places but we’ll be emphasizing a conversation with the attendees gather perspectives from across the nation to understand where things are now and where they might (or should) be going.
This year I’ve been involved in evaluating and designing a new framework for the most valuable membership benefit of the American Association for State and Local History: professional development. Surprised it ranks so high? When you step back and look at what AASLH offers—annual meeting, History News, books, technical leaflets, webinars, workshops, Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs), History Leadership Institute—you realize that they all sharpen the skills and help advance the mission of history organizations. Over the past two years, Conny Graft and I have designed a new framework for creating and aligning these professional development programs, and once it’s been approved and adopted, I’ll share more about this project in a future post.
I’ve also been involved in rethinking the History Leadership Institute (HLI) to better meet the needs of today’s mid-career professionals. The content has been continually tweaked, but more visible is the shift from November to June and a hybrid format. HLI now consists of two weeks online and two weeks in residence in Indianapolis, responding to the needs of professionals who want a better work-life balance and the availability of technologies to effectively deliver online learning experiences. What hasn’t changed is that HLI grapples with the tough and critical issues facing the field in a collegial environment. Although the schedule is still under development, you can get a sense of this by some of the facilitators who will be joining us in June 2020:
Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Illinois State Museum
Anne W. Ackerson, Leading by Design
Randi Korn and Stephanie Downey, RK&A
George McDaniel, McDaniel Consulting
Norman Burns and Richard Cooper, Conner Prairie
Erin Carlson Mast, President Lincoln’s Cottage
Trevor Jones, Nebraska Historical Society
David Young, Delaware Historical Society
Sarah Pharaon, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
Richard M. Josey Jr, Collective Journeys
We’re also including a session by the Frameworks Institute on their research on American’s attitudes towards history, part of the larger “Framing History” project of AASLH. Whether it’s a historical society communicating with new audiences, an academic department talking with potential majors, or a museum making their case to funders or legislators, this project will provide history practitioners with tools to frame their messages as effectively as possible.
If you are interested in participating, please submit an application by December 15. Participation is limited and scholarships are available. For more details, visit HistoryLeadership.org.
As part of a project to develop a new framework for AASLH‘s professional development/continuing education program, I plotted history organizations onto a map of the United States using a subset of IMLS’s database of museums. That’s a big category that includes history museums, historical societies, historic preservation organizations, historic house museums, and general museums that include history as a major topic and while there is some discussion about the comprehensiveness of the IMLS database, it’s the best information we have available and for my project, more than sufficient to get a sense of the big picture.
As you’ll see in the map below, history organizations are mostly located in the eastern half of the US. Start at the southern tip of Texas and draw an imaginary line due north and the lion’s share is on the right side of the map.
History organizations in the United States. Red is the location of historical societies and historic preservation organizations; green is history museums and house museums; and blue is general museums. Data source: IMLS, 2018. Map: Engaging Places.
That’s probably something we all suspected but now can visualize it better. When I’ve shown this map to a few people, they concluded that it’s because there’s much more history in the East. But take a look at the heat map below while recalling the US history timeline, and you’ll come to a different conclusion. Continue reading →
AASLH workshop on historic house museums at the Homestead Museum in June 2018.
On June 11-12, George McDaniel and I led the AASLH workshop, “Historic House Museum Issues and Operations” at the Homestead Museum in California. This was our 18th workshop and we open every one by asking the participants to share the biggest challenge facing their museum, which we revisit at the end to ensure we adequately addressed their issue.
In the latest workshop, a dozen participants provided this list:
Irresponsible stewardship by the city despite local community support.
Lost connection to the local community and parent organization.
Relationship with the parent organization. Aging volunteer base.
Shifting priorities, finding overarching vision with changing leadership and multiple stakeholders.
Managing growth and change; coordinating mission and vision of the site. Relevance to people 20-35 years.
Prioritizing a lot of maintenance and repair issues. Should the site become a house museum?
Prioritizing issues and engaging volunteers to help (one person trying to do it all).
Connecting to interests and needs of the local communities; being a service to the community.
Increase recognition of the site’s significance and value to the community and open site to the public as a museum; ensure the preservation of site if sold to a developer (e.g., easements).
How to grow volunteer program (older volunteers moving out; younger volunteers have different interests and needs; engaging new or different cultures in the local community)
How to drive traffic into the museum.
Outreach to new audiences (currently “oldtimers”; want to add underprivileged communities who don’t know the history of the area; make relevant to all residents, have ownership).
Overcoming preconceptions of historic house museum and negative perceptions of history.
Connecting to the needs and interests to the community through the collection (e.g., hot issues); get people excited about history and empowering them to care for their own collections (tangible pieces of history).
I’ve anonymized and reorganized the list so the participants aren’t identified and on further reflection, I’ve come to a few conclusions: Continue reading →
I’ve written previously about embezzlement and financial fraud in museums and historic sites, but even better is an AASLH webinar on Thursday, February 22 at 3:00 pm Eastern with Kelly Paxton, a national expert on embezzlement. Kelly is a certified fraud examiner who has worked in both the public and private sectors, including the US Customs Office of Investigations, Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Homeland Security. I’ve gotten to know her through her website pinkcollarcrime.com about women embezzlers in the workplace, who unfortunately count many museums and nonprofits among their victims.
In less than two hours, you’ll learn policies and procedures that not only will help you prevent a devastating financial loss, but protect your staff and board members as well. The cost is $65 ($40 for AASLH members) and can help you avoid the loss of thousands of dollars and the long-term damage to your reputation. Indeed, it might be happening to you right now (these criminals are sneaky—has your bookkeeper avoided vacation in the last couple of years?). Learn more at Fraud at the Museum: Protecting Your Organization from a Devasting Event(part of AASLH’s Nightmare at the Museum webinar series).
In case you missed it, some recent news stories about embezzlement in museums: Continue reading →
George McDaniel, Sandra Smith, and me at dinner at the LBJ Library.
This week I’m at the AASLH Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas where both the weather and friendships are warm. We’re about halfway through the conference and I’ll have further postings about specific topics and sessions soon, but for now I wanted to share a few photos from my experiences at a couple workshops, a session I moderated on community engagement (also presented later as a webinar), the exhibit hall, dinner at the LBJ Presidential Library and the Briscoe Center on American History, and a reception for the Seminar for Historical Administration.